What you do leading up to training can have a huge impact on whether you have a mediocre session or a great session.
Putting more thought into your pre-workout nutrition, supplementation, nervous system activation, and general and specific warm-up, can instantly improve the quality of your workout.
For those training for maximal hypertrophy, pre-workout nutrition may start as early as the day before your training session. Because hypertrophy workouts typically heavily rely on glycogen for fuel, it would be wise to have full glycogen stores going in.
This doesn’t mean you should start slamming the carbs with reckless abandon. First take an inventory of your daily carb consumption. Also, be realistic about the amount of carbs it will take to fill your glycogen stores. Some questions you should ask yourself:
1.What’s your bodyweight?
2.What’s your body fat percentage?
3.How frequently are you training?
4.How many work sets per session are you doing?
How you answer these questions impacts if, when, and how high your carb consumption should be.
A 100kg bodybuilder with 8% body fat that trains with high volume five sessions per week, will usually benefit from a higher carb consumption than an 85kg lifter with 12% body fat that trains with moderate volume three sessions per week.
The bigger, leaner lifter might eat 400-plus grammes of carbs, moderate protein, and low fat the day before a high volume session.
The other lifter would all things being equal (which they rarely are) be more likely to gain fat with that approach. A more moderate carb intake is appropriate.
For those training for fat loss, carb consumption will typically be limited to increase the use of fatty acids for fuel during the workout.
If you have been using a low carb diet and are looking to reintroduce them start here.
For lifters more concerned with strength development, they need not worry as much about glycogen. Strength workouts, with the lower rep ranges and time under tension, won’t rely as heavily on glycogen for fuel. So, in general carb consumption doesn’t need to be as high as it would be for hypertrophy.
For most lifters, lean animal protein (chicken, bison, whey) and medium chain triglycerides (coconut oil) are a safe bet 1-2 hours before the workout. These are just samples; always choose foods that agree with you.
First things first – pre-workout supplements are not motivation in a bottle. Don’t be the guy that thinks he has to have a certain pill or powder in order to train hard. That’s not what supplements are for.
You need to think about the objective of the training session and what nutrients work synergistically with what you’re trying to accomplish.
For fat loss consider the following:
Caffeine – Caffeine has been shown to increase fat oxidation, metabolic rate, and thermogenesis, as well as positive effects on aerobic and anaerobic capacity. One drawback of caffeine is that a tolerance can be developed. For this reason, use in cycles. And this includes caffeinated beverages (coffee, tea, diet soda drinks).
Green Tea Extract – GTE may increase the fat burning potential of caffeine. Again, this combination works best for those that aren’t habitual caffeine users.
Alpha GPC – Alpha GPC has been shown to support cognitive function, focus, mood, and growth hormone and acetylcholine production.
Caffeine – Yes, again. It’s not just for fat loss. It has also been shown to increase strength and power output.
Creatine – It has been shown to increase power output and muscle mass.
Branched Chain Amino Acids and Essential Amino Acids – BCAA’s and EAA’s are effective at promoting protein synthesis, increasing endurance, and speeding recovery.
The above supplements mentioned for strength can also be used for hypertrophy, along with a couple of others:
Beta-Alanine – Beta-Alanine is an amino acid that can act as an acid buffer and can increase muscular endurance.
Carb Powders – There are a number of options here. Dextrose, maltodextrin, waxy maize, highly branched cyclic dextrin, and the list goes on.
They each have their own set of pros and cons, as well as price points. More importantly than which one to use, is to refer back to asking yourself if you’re a candidate at all.
Lastly, regardless of what you’re training for, consider electrolytes. They’re essential for muscular contraction and relaxation. Even a small drop in optimal hydration levels can have a detrimental effect on performance.
This is just a small portion of available performance supplements, and the list is always getting longer. But the ones mentioned have a solid track record. If supplements are not your speciality, it’s imperative that you consult with a professional. They can guide you on safe dosing, possible combinations, and reputable brands.
The general warm-up serves to increase body temperature and blood flow, and lubricates the joints with synovial fluid. This is vital for both decreasing injury risk and for increasing performance.
The general warm-up doesn’t have to be fancy, and definitely shouldn’t be time-consuming. Walking or light biking for a few minutes will get the job done. But, I still prefer to use bodyweight and light resistance exercises as they have the added benefit of improving mobility.
If you choose to go down this route, start with short-range-of-motion isolation exercises first and progress to longer-range compound exercises as you go.
Below are two quick and easy general warm-ups. For any exercise that requires external resistance choose a weight you could easily lift for 20-plus reps. No resting between exercises, and note that many of the exercises indicate a pause in the stretched position.
5-Minute General Lower Body Warm-Up:
5-Minute General Upper Body Warm-Up:
If you’re preparing for a full body workout choose 3-4 exercises from each list above and combine them into one warm-up.
These exercises aren’t set in stone. Alter them to your liking. Change them every workout if you’d like. If needed, run through a second time. It doesn’t really matter as long as you achieve the objective.
Many veteran lifters and those that live in cold climates take extra steps to increase body temperature and blood flow. One way is simply to wear an extra layer of clothing. Another method is applying topical creams such as menthol, camphor, and capsaicin.
Use caution with these substances and if you have sensitive skin it’s probably best to avoid them altogether.
Nervous System Activation
After the general warm-up you’re ready to prime the nervous system. Priming the nervous system improves your ability to recruit high-threshold motor units (HTMU). HTMU’s play a key role in developing strength, power, and muscle mass.
Two ways to wake up the nervous system are:
1. High velocity exercises, such as jumps or throws. Take a few minutes and work your way up to a maximal height vertical jump or a maximal distance medicine ball toss.
2. Unstable movements. A few sets of push-ups with the hands on a Swiss ball, or wobble board split squats work well here. But remember, these are just to be used for nervous system activation in preparation for the workout. These aren’t exercises to include in your main workout.
Whichever of these you choose, remember that your goal is to prime the nervous system. Don’t chase fatigue. Less is more with these exercises.
A specific warm-up is done for your main exercise, exercise pair, or exercise group; any of your “A” series exercises.
Use the same technique and tempo for your warm-ups and work sets. Warm-up sets are a rehearsal for the main event.
The closer your work set weight is to your one-rep max, the more warm-up sets you need to perform. Another way to say it: more warm-ups are required before working in low rep ranges.
A lifter with a 150kg one-rep max bench press who plans to do three sets of 10 with 105kg may warm-up with the following weights:
20kg x 10
60kg x 6
80kg x 4
100kg x 2
That same 150kg bench presser will perform more warm-up sets if he is going to use 130kg for six sets of three reps:
20kg x 10
60kg x 6
80kg x 4
100kg x 2
110kg x 2
120kg x 1
125kg x 1
Notice that the reps decrease as he gets closer to the working weight. This allows the lifter to get a feel for the weight without creating fatigue.
You’ll do this for all “A” exercises.
These are just samples. Age, size, strength, and exercise selection all play a role in the specific warm-up. If you ever feel you need another warm-up set, take it. You’ll never regret taking an extra one, but you may regret it if you don’t.
That’s it! Now you’re ready to TRAIN!
What’s presented here takes a little more time and effort than what most lifters are used to in preparation for a workout, but give it a shot. You’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.